Muhammad (pbuh) was an illiterate but wise and well-respected man who was born in Makkah in the year 570 C.E., at a time when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe. His first years were marked by the deaths of his parents. Since his father died before his birth, his uncle, Abu Talib, from the respected tribe of Quraysh, raised him. As Muhammad (pbuh) grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so that he was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. His reputation and personal qualities also led to his marriage, at the age of twenty-five, to Khadijah, a widow whom he had assisted in business. Thenceforth, he became an important and trusted citizen of Makkah. Historians describe him as calm and meditative.
Muhammad (pbuh) never felt fully content to be part of a society whose values he
considered to be devoid of true religious significance. It became his habit to
retreat from time to time to the cave of Hira', to meditate near the summit of
Jabal al-Nur, the "Mountain of Light", near Makkah.
At the age of 40, while engaged in one such meditative retreat, Muhammad (pbuh) received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty-three years, is known as the Qur'an, the faithful recording of the entire revelation of God. The first revelation read:
[Holy Quran 96:1-5]
It was this reality that he gradually and steadily came to learn and believe, until he fully realized that it is the truth.
His first convert was Khadijah, whose support and companionship provided
necessary reassurance and strength. He also won the support of some of his
relatives and friends. Three basic themes of the early message were the majesty
of the one, unique God, the futility of idol worship, the threat of judgment,
and the necessity of faith, compassion and morality in human affairs. All these
themes represented an attack on the crass materialism and idolatry prevalent in
Makkah at the time. So when he began to proclaim the message to others the
Makkans rejected him. He and his small group of followers suffered bitter
persecution, which grew so fierce that in the year 622 C.E., God gave them the
command to emigrate. This event, the Hijrah (migration), in which they left
Makkah for the city of Madinah, some 260 miles to the north, marked the
beginning of a new era and thus the beginning of the Muslim calendar. During his
suffering, Muhammad (pbuh) drew comfort from the knowledge revealed to him about
other prophets, such as Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, each of whom had also been
persecuted and tested.
After several years and some significant battles, the Prophet and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam definitively. By the time the Prophet died, at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia had accepted Islam, and within a century of his death, Islam had spread as far west as Spain and as far east as China. It was clear that the message was not limited to Arabs; it was for the whole of humanity.